How my railroad interests moved from the Pacific Northwest to Southern New South Wales .....with a stop over in Southern California

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Modeling History - Part 1 - The BN Years

Like most people my age, I was initiated into model trains when I received a Lionel trainset for Christmas when I was about 5 years old.  It came as an oval of track mounted on a green painted plywood board that would slide under the bed.  Pulled by a steam engine, I eventually had a bunch of the "cool" freight cars like the giraffe car, and the car that launched a helicopter.

My first piece of HO equipment was an Athearn 40 ft. flat car with with the small jib crane.  I didn't even own track at the time, but I thought it was pretty neat, and if I remember correctly, cost around $1.95 worth of saved up allowance.

Through my teen years I had a layout of sorts in our garage and/or enclosed porch, but had no real modeling focus until my first visit to the Pacific Northwest in 1974.  A family trip to the World's Fair in Spokane Washington brought my first exposure to the Burlington Northern.  I had read about it in magazines since it was created in 1970, but seeing the "Glacier" green and black freshly painted on everything, plus a healthy assortment of pre-merger colors on everything from switch engines to F-units to Alcos, was enough to hook me.

My modeling was pretty well stagnant for the last year of High School and year and 1/2 of Junior College.   It finally blossomed again in late 1978 when I moved to San Diego to attend college.  When I arrived I found a LARGE Model Railroad club that was on display every weekend in Balboa Park and joined up.  My brother David was attending college in Denver at the time, and frequent visits were spent photographing the BN and its' unit coal trains running south on the Joint Line towards Texas.

I decided BN in general and a BN unit coal train would be my weekly displays at the club operating sessions.   It was GREAT!...because no one in San Diego had a clue about the BN, so I was pretty much free of the rivet counters criticizing my modeling.

I continued collecting BN & pre merger BN equipment for the next couple of years.  After 2 years in the club, we were going to have to tear down the layout (which was over 20 years old) and were starting the planning process to move to a newer, bigger location within the park.  At this time my current distaste for clubs was formed...politics and cronyism started replacing common sense.  Luckily for me, a major change in my life was soon to come.

For several years I had been corresponding with all the major (and many of the non-major) railroads in the US trying to get a job.   At the end of July 1979, I made a follow-up call to the BN in Portland, Oregon.  The personnel manager said he might have something for me...if I could get up there.  48 hours later I was in his office and by the next evening....I started my career with BN, not so glamorous as I first night was spent sweeping floors and cleaning toilets in the division office building in Portland.....but it was a start.

I worked for the next 2 weeks, living in a motel, before I got time off to race back to San Diego to pack my belongings and head back north to start a 20 year residence in Washington.  The models shown here are still with me to this day...don't know that anyone would want this old Athearn junk now.  But they were seed for my next modeling chapter....The Cascade Railway


  1. They may not look much Lance but they were the catalyst for bigger things - NSW things!!! I would keep a special place for at least one of them in the train room to remind me of where it all started!!

    PS What is "sipping" in US railway speak???

  2. Hi Gary,
    Don't remember ever hearing the term "sipping"....maybe if I knew the context in which it was used (I searched frantically to see If it was something I wrote and just misspelled...didn't find it)

  3. Not your mistake Lance, sorry if I caused a panic attack ;-). Was looking at a site the other day "The Sipping and Switching Society of North Carolina" A HO module club that get together at exhibitions and put together BIG layouts with the members own modules. Unless I misread it and it was 'shipping'???

  4. I got it. Not a railroad term at all...apparently a group that gets together, runs some trains and then sits around and has a few
    "sips" of adult beverages (probably some of that good southern sippin' whiskey).....well I guess it could be considered a railroad term....all the rails I've known over the years have done their share of sipping.

    Blair and I belong to a loose group of modelers that call themselves the "Thursday Night Jazz and Pie Club"....after our meeting night, our background music and what we ate after we finished railroading for the night.

  5. Now it makes sense. About an hour after my last comment I wondered if I was way 'off track' (sorry!)and it had nothing to do with operations whatsoever and was merely referring to that time when all great decisions are made...mostly??!! Not that much different from the Friday Night Ramblers really, often much rambling to be had and little modelling. thanks Lance.